The Department for Transport (DfT) says it has no plans to widen the definition of causing death by dangerous driving to include “failure to stop, call 999 and render aid on scene until further help arrives,” despite a petition calling for such changes under the name of “Ryan’s Law” attracting 45,000 signatures,
The petition is named after Ryan Saltern, who was walking along a road in Cornwall on his way to a party when motorist Wayne Shilling crashed into him then drove off and left him to die.
At trial, Shilling, who had been drinking at a carnival – one witness, according to a BBC report, said he was “away with the fairies” – claimed he had not been aware he had hit anyone, although the crash punctured his car’s radiator.
Police were told by a member of Shilling’s family that he was involved in the fatal crash 36 hours after it happened – far too late, of course, for alcohol testing to be conducted.
Pleading guilty to failure to stop and report an accident, he was handed a four-month prison sentence, suspended for a year.
He was also disqualified from driving for 12 months, given an evening curfew for four months and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £207 and prosecution costs.
Shilling was not charged with causing death by careless driving, which carries a maximum jail sentence of five years’ imprisonment, or with the more serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
In the petition, Mr Saltern’s family highlighted that charging suspects with failure to stop or careless driving “offers lighter custodial sentences & focuses on fines/suspensions.”
It calls for drivers who do not stop, call 999 and give aid until the arrival of help “should face charges for death by dangerous driving,” with the aim of cutting the number of hit and run crashes and roadside deaths.
It also called for much stronger sentencing in such circumstances than currently apply to causing death by dangerous driving, which has a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.
Instead, the petition calls for a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment, saying that as a result, “citizens would be better protected.”
In its response to the petition, the DfT said: “It is unacceptable for drivers to fail to stop and report an incident. However, the offence should not be used to punish an offender for a serious, but unproven, offence.
“Ministers are aware of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Ryan Saltern and extend their sympathy to family and friends.
“Failure to stop and report offences are often referred to as ‘hit and run’, but this is not an accurate reflection of the offence. The offence is designed to deal with behaviour relating to failing to stop, not as an alternative route to punish an offender for a more serious, but unproven offence.
“The vast majority of failure to stop and report offences involve low level traffic incidents, for example where a driver clips the wing mirror of another vehicle in a narrow street.
“In a small number of cases, the failure to stop or report may be related to an incident which leads to the death or serious injury of another person,” it said.
“Where there is evidence the driver caused harm, there is a range of offences for which the driver may be charged including causing death or serious injury from dangerous or careless driving. In these cases, the courts will treat the failure to stop as a further aggravating factor in the sentencing decision.
“Where there is evidence that the driver tried to frustrate justice or avoid detection, they may also be charged with perverting the course of justice, which carries a life sentence as a maximum penalty.
“The Government takes this issue seriously,” the DfT added, saying that it is “looking into the issue of such incidents of failure to stop resulting in death or serious injury, and exploring whether there are further options that can be pursued.”
Not addressed within the response is the issue of specifically incorporating not calling 999 and not giving aid to the victim – while according to Sentencing Council guidelines, failing to stop,
Should the petition reach 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for a House of Commons debate by the Backbench Business Committee.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.